After 10 years in power, Guinea’s 82-year-old president is running for a third term on Sunday, defying tens of thousands of protesters who flooded the streets to try to stop him.
A former opposition leader who was once sentenced to death by an autocrat, Alpha Conde is accused by critics of drifting into authoritarianism by plotting to extend his grip on power.
In March, he pushed through a revamped constitution that he said would modernise the country, but which opponents cast as a ploy to stay in office beyond the two-term presidential limit.
“I fought for 45 years; I was an opposition leader,” Conde, who is known for prickly outbursts, told French broadcasters this month.
“My opponents are civil servants who became prime ministers after tearing the country to the ground. It’s extraordinary that I am considered an undemocratic dictator.”
Conde is facing his longtime foe and political opposite, the slender and soft-spoken Cellou Dalein Diallo, on October 18.
Diallo is now the West African state’s main opposition leader, but he cut his teeth under authoritarian leader Lansana Conte, eventually rising to become prime minister.
The 68-year-old was at the forefront of protests against a Conde third term, which security forces cracked down on, leaving dozens of people dead.
Significantly, Diallo and Conde hail from different ethnic groups.
Politics in the poor but resource-rich nation of 13 million people are mostly drawn along ethnic lines.
President Conde’s Rally of the Guinean People (RPG) party is largely backed by Malinke people, and Diallo’s Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG) by Fulani people, although both insist they are pluralist.
Last week, the United Nations expressed alarm at ethnically charged hate speech rising in the lead-up to the polls, warning the situation is “extremely dangerous” and may lead to violence.